Merv not ready to turn the page
By TERRY WILSON
MERV Page has seen a lot in his time involved with greyhound racing.
But as the now 80-year-old eases into his twilight years there is no suggestion of the trainer-official slowing down.
Page recently stepped down as manager of the Ipswich Greyhound Racing Club, allowing Narelle Long to take command, although the popular octogenarian remains as an assistant advisor.
There is plenty of work ahead of the loyal dog man, not the least attention being given to two litters of pups ready to be broken in at Page’s Walloon headquarters just outside Ipswich.
That is all ahead of him, but when you delve into Page’s background you unearth some wonderful stories of his colourful past.
He can talk about going down to Richmond and landing a sizeable plunge.
He can talk about buying a new vehicle on the way back with profits from that plunge.
He can talk about how the gambling bug came from his wife Margaret’s five brothers, who were all jockeys.
He can talk about how the closure of the Toowoomba track pushed himself and other trainers into the task of rebuilding the old Ipswich club.
And he can talk about how the Ipswich club was railroaded into Saturday night meetings that started three hours before midnight.
Chase sat down with the popular Page to mull over times in what they called the good old days.
Chase: It has been a long and interesting career for you in the greyhounds. When was your interest first sparked?
MP: I started work as an apprentice plumber when I was 14 and at 17 I was helping an uncle, Ken Bell, who had been a jockey. Actually all my gambling habits came out of my mother’s five brothers, they were all jockeys.
Ken had to do national service and when he came out he was five times the size of a normal jockey so he started training greyhounds.
One of the brothers, Bevan, finished as a jockey and went on to be travelling foreman for Tommy Smith and Bart Cummings at different stages.
Chase: So you must have received some good tips from the Bell brethren?
MP: Oh yes, I got some.
Chase: How did it all begin for you as a trainer?
MP: I was 19 years old when I had my first dog. That was 60 years ago. It was named Gogangola and I bought it at Casino. It won one race, a maiden at Beenleigh.
Chase: You were around in an era when interstate raiders hit various tracks in various states and extracted a lot of money from the local bookmakers. Tell us about that.
MP: Well, in those days there was not much information about form and whatever of greyhounds. There were no form guides or video replays or things like that.
Chase: There is one very special raid you and your camp organised that was a huge success and resulted in you earning the wrath of bookies.
MP: We won two races one day at the same meeting at Richmond (outside of Sydney). We drove down there in an old FJ Holden panel van. It was an old milk truck. There were four of us on the front bench seat. I was driving, my wife was in the middle nursing our two-year-old daughter on her lap, and there was the owner.
Chase: Two dogs in the back, four people in the front. That adds up to a cramped trip. But it ended up being worth it, didn’t it.
MP: We took down Wonderada, a bitch that had broken the Loganholme track record in her first run and she had won eight of nine but no one down there knew who she was.
There was also Supreme Shoe having its first start. We backed him from 6-1 to 6-4 and then we backed Wonderada from 33-1 to 3-1. The bookies chased us out of Richmond. They told us if we went back the next week we wouldn’t get on.
Chase: I know you won’t say the exact amount, but roughly how much did you win?
MP: All the way down the gear lever kept jumping out and the missus had to pull it back into gear so on the way back we stopped at Midway Motors in Beenleigh and bought a new station wagon out of the winnings. The wagon was worth 1200 pounds back then. That was in 1967.
And I won the Capalaba Gold Cup (290m) with Wonderada’s son Gay Optimist.
Chase: Those are some wonderful memories of the days of the old-fashioned plunges coming off. But how did you become one of Ipswich’s favourite sons?
MP: It was when Toowoomba closed in 2000 and about eight trainers got together and said that we’d save Ipswich. It was pretty run-down then.
I was on the committee for 12 months, then became president and my ambition then was to get the club back into the black and to have a million dollars in the bank before I left. In 2012 I became club manager and I’ve been licensee of the club for the last 20 years. But what has happened has been with the full support of a very good committee.
Chase: The club was literally left in the dark when it lost Saturday night racing. What was that all about?
MP: We had to get Saturday racing back with full TAB betting. We had to go non-TAB with a bookmaker fielding and they gave us a stint on Saturday night starting at nine o’clock to a quarter to 12. It went like that for a year and they gave us our Saturday night spot back.
Chase: There is a funny story involving you and the late Harry Pledger, who used to be boss at Border Park.
MP: I went on a holiday to Tweed Heads and camped in a tent and I tied this young dog to it. Anyway, Harry heard about this dog and phoned me and said he had nominated it for a race because numbers were a bit light-on. He said not to worry because I could always scratch it. I was going to start the dog, but not at that stage.
Chase: What lies ahead for you Merv?
MP: I’d like to hold on a little longer at the club, but away from that it’ll always be greyhound training, even if I have to crawl around on my knees. I have two litters to go, one by Aussie Infrared and the other by SH Avatar. I had 14 pups and tried to sell them, but we sold only one. I’ve only just started breaking them in.
Chase: What is the best greyhound you have seen and what was your best greyhound?
MP: The best I’ve seen was Zoom Top and Gay Optimist is probably the best one I’ve trained.
Chase: You must have seen plenty of Australia in your heyday. Where did you go on any holiday you may have had?
MP: A whole heap of my life has been all greyhounds. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you that if there was no greyhound track somewhere we wouldn’t have been there.